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Israel Election Results: How Netanyahu Lost, and Why He Might Still Win

The final results in the election for the 24th Knesset are in and their bottom line is that Benjamin Netanyahu lost.

He defined victory as a Knesset majority made up of five parties – Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Religious Zionism and Yamina, even though Yamina’s Naftali Bennett refused to commit to joining in advance – and he failed to achieve even that low bar.

The five parties of the notional “Netanyahu bloc” now total 59 seats, two short of a majority.

Netanyahu lost the election despite crafting over the past year, literally from the moment the previous election ended, a brilliant and comprehensive campaign that was accomplished, exactly as planned, on all fronts.

He succeeded in exploiting and engineering division in all the center-left parties that ran against him last year – Kahol Lavan, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and Joint List, all split.

Three parties became six and at least a couple of them were expected not to cross the threshold, losing valuable opposition votes.

After splitting the opposition, Netanyahu made sure to keep his bloc whole, forcing the three splinter far-right parties National Union, neo-Kahanist Jewish Power and homophobic Noam to unite in the joint Religious Zionism list. This time, he ensured that not one right-wing vote would be squandered.

With his groundwork complete, Netanyahu stormed on to the campaign trail, extracting every ounce of PR from the successful coronavirus vaccination program, which was so conveniently timed to vaccinate most adult Israelis by Election Day.

To maximize Likud’s vote he also embarked on a campaign directed at the Israeli Arab community, hoping to scoop up voters disappointed with the Joint List, with promises they would be the first to reap the benefits of Israel’s new ties with Arab nations.

Every part of Netanyahu’s campaign worked just as planned. Until Election Day, when it crumbled in the face of Israeli voters. Centrists, left-wingers and Arabs all divided neatly and ensured their six parties all crossed the electoral threshold.

Even the United Arab List, which Netanyahu assumed would fail and waste tens of thousands of Israeli Arab votes, scraped through. This was partly with Netanyahu’s help, who opened up in his “Abu Yair” campaign the possibility of a new relationship between the Israeli government and the Arab community. It seems like many in the community decided to try it out by voting for the UAL, whose leader, Mansour Abbas, is open to joining any coalition. They didn’t, however, go for Likud which seems to have picked up, at most, just half a seat’s-worth of Arab votes.

But perhaps the biggest factor in Netanyahu’s loss is the ineffectiveness of his vaccination campaign.

Israelis rushed to be jabbed, but the ingrates refused to thank Netanyahu with their vote for the double dose of Pfizer BioNTech. In fact, Likud lost nearly 300,000 of the voters who voted for it just a year ago. A loss, magnified by the low turnout, that resulted in a rapid drop from 36 to 30 seats.

The only element of Netanyahu’s plan that yielded the expected result was Religious Zionism, which made it over the threshold with six seats. A boost for the Netanyahu bloc, but at least a couple of these seem to have come at Likud’s expense. Such a sacrifice would have been worthwhile had the bloc won a majority. It didn’t.

Netanyahu has lost yet another round of the never-ending election that has been ongoing since the end of 2018. It doesn’t mean he’s lost the war yet. He’s still caretaker prime minister and the opposition hasn’t got a clear path to a coalition yet, either.

He could still salvage something from the election aftermath, perhaps even a coalition with a couple of defectors, or by a bizarre alliance of Jewish supremacists and conservative Islamists – though more likely, he will just try and run down the clock on coalition negotiations until a fifth election is called. But this time around his plans have failed, and he’s lost the fourth election.

Source: Anshel Pfeffer – HAARETZ